The perception problem

I came across an editorial in a college newspaper today in which the writer looked for reasons why so many college students and recent graduates are currently living with their parents. It’s always interesting to see how the situation is perceived by the adult children themselves. The writer’s perceptions are in line with what I see and hear from other adult children in their early 20s. Here’s my analysis of her points:

1. Generation Y had dreams of being independent at college, spurred on by unrealistic movies, and has “received another kick in the jaw” by being unable to do so.

My take: It seems to me the perception here is the problem. We all see idealized lives in the movies. There are few movies about people going to jobs they don’t like for 40 years to support a family that they can only rarely take on vacation. Feeling like you’ve been kicked in the jaw because you misunderstood your own financial ability to support yourself seems strange. Unless the kick in the jaw is that your parents are unwilling or unable to support the dreamed-of college lifestyle.

2. The economy is to blame for the lack of good, well paying entry-level jobs. “I’m sure every student knows a recent graduate who has a degree in something impressive like molecular biology but is putting that brilliant mind to work as a full-time barista at Starbucks instead of interning at a hospital.”

My take: I graduated from college 12 years ago. Then, unable to find a job that took advantage of my new skills and education, I went and worked for slightly more than minimum wage in a bookstore while, yes, living with my parents. My point is that it’s not a new problem that college grads can’t find jobs in their chosen fields, especially jobs that pay a living wage. Yes, this is a problem, but it it not new. The key is to find opportunities to grow in whatever job you can find. I built a website for that bookstore, asked for the responsibility of writing some newspaper ads, and started a community book club. These efforts made this job more than a sales clerk position and allowed me to use it as a springboard to my first “real” job.

3. Tuition has climbed out of proportion with family income.

My take: Yes –I absolutely agree. When I was in college, I made my way on scholarships, meaning I graduated unburdened by student loans. I’m not sure this is possible today. Parents and their children need to have conversations about college early — and if the children want to go, it’s a wise idea for both parents and teenagers to start saving. It’s much easier (and less expensive) to save at least some of the money ahead of time than to be burdened with loan payments for 20 years. This is a real problem.

But it’s the second point that I find most interesting. My perception is that no one has been able to walk straight out of college and get a “real” job since my parents graduated — about 40 years ago. At that stage, the baby boomers began to fill up jobs, meaning that there were not so many openings for young grads as older people retired. Hence the predicament of Generation X, which is now continuing with Gen Y, rather than emerging as a new problem.

I’m sure today’s college students will think I am an old crab-pot if they read this. But am I wrong?

You can read Brittany Forrell’s editorial “Tuition Costs Crush Students” in the Missouri State University Standard here.